When Catholic leaders in Rome put out a worldwide call in 2000 to all religious communities to address the growing global scourge of human trafficking, the Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus and Mary took the call to heart.
At the time, human trafficking ranked among the world’s most profitable illegal trades, behind arms and drug trafficking. Today, it still ranks among the most profitable illegal trades, and is considered the fastest growing illegal enterprise worldwide, according to Forbes magazine.
Human trafficking is the business of stealing freedom for profit, according to the Polaris Project, a U.S.-based organization that works to disrupt human trafficking networks. Trafficking involves using force, fraud or coercion to make victims engage in commercial sex or to work in inhumane, illegal or otherwise unacceptable conditions. In total, Polaris has identified 25 unique business models of human trafficking.
Learning all they could about human trafficking, a local community of the Sisters gathered in the early 2000s at their home in Silver Spring, Md. to discuss what they could do locally to heed this call.
Sr. Carroll Ann Kemp suggested forming a coalition to involve women from other religious communities in their work against human trafficking. And more than 15 years ago, the Mid-Atlantic Coalition Against Modern Slavery — or MACAMS as it is more commonly known — was born. Today, the coalition has dozens of members from various faiths and is active in the Maryland-Washington, D.C. region.
The work of MACAMS focuses on combatting human trafficking through public education, advocacy, support of organizations that provide direct service to victims, and prayer, said Sr. Carol Ries, a leader of the group.
While MACAMS has hosted numerous information sessions on trafficking across the region and participated in many conferences and forums, perhaps the most public work of MACAMS is their prayer every other month on the corner of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive in Silver Spring.
“We just pray silently,” said Kemp, coordinator of MACAMS. “We’re not putting brochures in people’s faces. We have little cards from the Blue Campaign telling the signs of someone being trafficked, but we wait until we’re asked for one to give it out.” The Blue Campaign is an effort by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its partners to combat human trafficking.
Members of MACAMS stand on the corner of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive in Silver Spring, Md. every other month to witness and pray for the end of human trafficking.
MACAMS’ prayer gathering every other month is short, lasting only about 30 minutes, Kemp said. As they pray, those on the busy street corner also hold colorful posters about trafficking created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and hand-made signs with messages such as “My child is not for sale.”
“We get a lot of silent affirmation,” Kemp said of those who pass by the group, adding that it frequently comes in the form of thumbs up or even people mouthing “thank you.” Others will stop to ask the group questions about trafficking or why they are on the corner.
Ries recalled a conversation with a man who said he simply couldn’t wrap his head around the concept of human trafficking and struggled to believe that it happens in his own community of Montgomery County, Md.
“People do question if what we are saying is true,” Ries said. “They think [trafficking] is only in other countries, but it’s here.”
According to Polaris Project, in 2017, a total of 10,615 individual victims of human trafficking were identified in the U.S. through the National Human Trafficking Hotline and BeFree Textline. Many of those victims are U.S. citizens.
Despite how long MACAMS has been actively working to combat human trafficking, Ries said the group continues to educate itself on the issue. Additionally, MACAMS works to connect with other anti-trafficking organizations in the region.
“Our work is not finished,” Ries said. “Laws still need to be developed, awareness still needs to happen, and we need to continue to roll up our sleeves and do what we can.”